Anne Wernikoff for EdSource
A student practices graphing in Algebra I at Rudsdale Newcomer High School in Oakland, California.

Why does the revised math framework for the entire state of California abandon peer-reviewed research in favor of magical thinking?

That’s a question we’ve been asking for more than a year now — with no meaningful answer.

As an organization of concerned citizens working for better governance, Families for San Francisco is sounding the alarm over California’s proposal to rely on San Francisco Unified School District’s exaggerated success claims as it revises our statewide math framework.

These claims have made their way into the introduction of the state’s proposed math framework (see page 17), have been widely cited by proponents of the new framework and have influenced the policy position of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

We believe strongly that incorporating social justice into math education is a no-brainer. Culturally relevant curriculum leads to fuller participation, deeper comprehension and better outcomes for all.

But as our research into San Francisco Unified’s results has shown, these efforts will be doomed if they’re not grounded in facts and reality.

The proposed revisions to the state curriculum rely heavily on the district’s seven-year experiment in overhauling its high school math pathway. By delaying Algebra 1 by one year for all students and by mandating that all students be in the same course sequence through eighth, ninth and 10th grades, the district promised to revolutionize equitable math instruction.

Unfortunately, the evidence does not bear out these claims.

We took a deep dive into SFUSD’s data. Through California Public Records Act requests and other publicly available data, our team investigated SFUSD’s metrics for improved outcomes.

And when we looked closely, what we found was that these initiatives had not only not worked — they had made the existing inequities much worse.

Although our full report covers many misleading and unsubstantiated claims, two examples will suffice here.

Our first shock came when we compared San Francisco Unified’s claims about long-term outcomes with its actual data. The district’s hunch had been that delaying Algebra 1 to ninth grade would keep everybody in the same classrooms through the end of 10th grade, empowering more diverse students to access advanced mathematics successfully.

But that’s not what actually happened. Far from keeping everybody in the same course pathway, San Francisco Unified’s mandate has led to an inequitable patchwork scheme of costly and hidden workarounds — enriched for-pay options that affluent students could access but that their less privileged counterparts could not. We found that after seven years, the number of Black and brown students in the district reaching Algebra 2 by the end of 10th grade has declined, not risen.

The second troubling inconsistency is the most celebrated and also the most misleading. For the past few years, the district has proclaimed in presentations that its new pathway reduced its Algebra 1 repeat rate from 40% to 7%. Not only have they produced no evidence to support this claim, our public records requests and analysis have revealed that the district knew its student outcomes under the new system remained unchanged — but they continued to promote the claim anyway.

In their most widely cited presentation, we found a speaker note for slide 3 that accidentally tells the truth: the fact that the one-time drop from 40% to 7% was not a result of the changed sequence at all, but was rather was “a one-time drop” — a fluke that occurred when they canceled their gatekeeping exit exam:

But the slide itself, and their presentations, do not include this critical insight. The fact that they failed to explain their own analysis of the effect of dropping this test tells you everything you need to know about their standards for research.

There’s so much more in our report that we hope will help launch a statewide conversation on the math framework. In fact, the New York Times just published a front-page story questioning California’s proposed approach that cited our report. To our surprise, in the three weeks since we first published our report, the district has neither contacted us to request corrections nor made any other public response to our work beyond their comments in the New York Times. We find their silence perplexing.

But it shouldn’t take a scrappy local citizens organization and public records requests to determine whether research promises have been kept.

That’s what the academic peer review process is for.

We believe it’s irresponsible to base the future of math education in California on this flawed program without full peer review first. The state’s math framework should be where we come together to improve on what actually works, so we can produce diverse and mathematically well-educated high school graduates for generations to come.

•••

Seeyew Mo is the executive director of Families For San Francisco, a San Francisco-based 501(c)4 focused on issues of good city governance, quality education and affordable housing.

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  1. Lin Choi 1 week ago1 week ago

    The subject of this email is another one of the many framework factual errors that was recently unearthed. Specifically, the “percentage of students in gifted and talented programs in CA”, in Chapter 1, p.15, the “High Achieving Students” Section of the draft math framework has been determined erroneous. Evidentially, framework’s CA’s GATE programs enrollment rate of Asian students was inflated by 17 percent points (from 15.1 percent to 32 percent) while the enrollment percentages of … Read More

    The subject of this email is another one of the many framework factual errors that was recently unearthed. Specifically, the “percentage of students in gifted and talented programs in CA”, in Chapter 1, p.15, the “High Achieving Students” Section of the draft math framework has been determined erroneous. Evidentially, framework’s CA’s GATE programs enrollment rate of Asian students was inflated by 17 percent points (from 15.1 percent to 32 percent) while the enrollment percentages of other student groups were understated, e.g., the share in GATEP for Latinx students was minimized by a factor close to 2 (from 5.8 percent to 3 percent). Please see below evidence-based write-up on Framework Percentage Errors for details.

    Lin Choi, PhD, retired aerospace engineer

    $$$$$ Begin of Write-up on Framework Percentage Errors $$$$$
    —————————————————————————————————–
    Framework reported “In CA in the years 2004-2014, 32% of Asian American students were in gifted (and talented) programs compared with 8% of White students, 4% of Black students, and 3% of Latinx students”. Framework cited [R1, NCES] (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_204.80.asp) as source of data, where NCES = National Center for Education Statistics.

    Truth of the matter is Table 204.80 from cited [R1, NCES] does not show the “percentage” but rather the “number” of public school students in CA’s gifted and talented education programs (GATEP), by race/ethnicity, and the data was for 2013-14 only.

    Framework Percentage for Latinx Students Does Not Add Up: Consider the frameworks reported 3 percent of Latinx students in CA’s GATEP. Given that in CA in 2013-14 the number of Latinx students in GATEP was 193,000 (from [R1, NCES]), which implies a physically impossible 6.4 million Latinx student enrollment (193,000 divided by 3 percent) as it exceeds the total student body in CA of about 6.3 million [R3, NCES]
    (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_203.20.asp). Hence, “3 percent of Latinx students in CA’s GATEP” in the draft framework is proven false by contradiction, violates the “laws of Physics” and is to be rejected outright.

    Moreover, the truth/real percentages enrollment statistics by percentage can be directly obtained from Table 204.90 [R2, NCES]
    (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_204.90.asp). The Table shows that in CA in 2013-14 the proportion of Asian White, Black, and Latinx students enrolled in GATEP were (15.1, 9.7, 4.5 and 5.8 percent, respectively).

    Notably, compared with percentage given by Table 204.90 [R2, NCES], framework’s CA’s GATE programs enrollment rate of Asian students was more than doubled (from 15.1% to 32) while in contrast rates of other student groups were significantly understated, e.g., the GATE programs enrollment rate for Latinx students was almost halved (from 5.8% to 3%).

    Additionally, public school students’ enrollment rate in CA’s GATEP, by race/ethnicity, averaged over selected years in 2004-2014 for which data is available from [R4-R5, NCES] (https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d1X/tables/dt1X_204.90.asp; X =3 and 5.), have also been computed. For Asian, White, Black, and Latinx students the calculated average was (15.5, 11, 4.7, and 5.4 percent, respectively). The average percentages are within about 1 percent point or less of the truth/real percentages in 2013-14.

    Furthermore JB’s Twitter post on June 28, 2020
    (https://twitter.com/joboaler/status/1277328709855277063) in which US percentage portion of Table 204.90 (from [R2, NCES]) was depicted. But in spite of apparent a priori knowledge, the distorted percentages were championed in the framework which might be construed as a purposeful attempt to create/amplify delusional optics of inequity in educational opportunities, and to inflame racial animus against Asians.

    Conclusions: Strong correlations between the enrollment percentages determined herein, separately drawn and/or computed using data from publicly available and reliable tables [R1 through R5, NCES] validate their reliability and establish enrollment rates’ respective accuracy. Not only is framework’s percentage of Latinx students in GATEP (3 percent) proven wrong via ‘contradiction’, that its students’ enrollment rates in GATEP, by race or ethnicity, are incompatible with those obtained from multiple collaborating NCES sources lead one to conclude that they are almost surely incorrect. Evidentially, framework’s CA’s GATEP enrollment rate of Asian students was inflated by 17 percent points (from 15 to 32 percent) while the enrollment percentages of other student groups were understated, e.g., the share in GATEP for Latinx students was minimized by a factor close to 2 (from 5.8 to 3 percent).

    Change in math education needs to come from scientific findings and an objective evaluation of what they conclude, not by asserting so-called facts. Cramming the authors’ political beliefs masquerading as facts into the framework to further their advocacy reflects a sad state of academics and public education in CA.
    ——————————————————————————————————
    $$$$$ End of Write-up on Framework Percentage Error $$$$$

    Lin Choi, PhD, retired aerospace engineer.

  2. Jennifer Bestor 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    SFUSD is an excellent Petri dish for pedagogical experiments. California's educational community forces the district to engage in them. Inequitable, inadequate funding – imposed unnecessarily – ensures it. Rather than fund SFUSD, hundreds of millions of dollars of local education-allocated property tax funding are now diverted to the City's purse – every single year. Academics, local legislators and the press turn a blind eye to this systematic diversion, which hides in plain sight … Read More

    SFUSD is an excellent Petri dish for pedagogical experiments. California’s educational community forces the district to engage in them. Inequitable, inadequate funding – imposed unnecessarily – ensures it.

    Rather than fund SFUSD, hundreds of millions of dollars of local education-allocated property tax funding are now diverted to the City’s purse – every single year. Academics, local legislators and the press turn a blind eye to this systematic diversion, which hides in plain sight under its acronym, “Excess ERAF.” “Excess ERAF” robs SFUSD of the chance to provide a fair and equal education. It has been created by a combination of the flat statewide school funding formula (applied in the highest cost urban area of the state) and a little noticed 1995 law meant to solve a small problem in Napa. Together, this financial legerdemain forces the district to try everything and anything. Is it a surprise when the administration pretends that some of the experiments worked?

    Last year, over $8,000 per SFUSD student – $351,475,839 of property tax allocated for SFUSD and SF community colleges – was mechanically passed instead to the mayor to spend. Up from $0 in 2013, when LCFF was passed, this money should have funded a regional cost supplement to create statewide parity for SFUSD funding. Instead it keeps piling into county coffers – already the richest in per-capita property tax funding in the state (see the LAO’s March 2020 report, Excess ERAF).

    Cleverly referred to by officials only by its acronym, “excess ERAF” was first discovered in San Francisco three years ago this month. ERAF stands for “Educational Revenue Augmentation Funding” and represents the 1992 reclamation of the property tax share the legislature stripped from San Francisco schools in 1979, one year after Proposition 13 hit.

    But that 1995 law defined “excess” as any ERAF not called for by the state’s school funding formula. Thus, the flat formula has created a cumulative diversion, since the controller’s November 2018 “discovery” of the city’s excess ERAF “windfall,” of over $1 billion now.

    Yes. One billion dollars of property tax, paid, collected and allocated in San Francisco County for education has quietly tiptoed off to fill the City’s rainy day fund and otherwise solve the mayor’s problems. Did no one tell you? Why not? Quo vadis?

    The Legislature, Board of Education, and Department of Education doggedly make no distinction between the cost of operating in San Francisco versus El Centro (or Ukiah or Modesto). This seems to suit the only players who count — LAUSD and Sacramento — even if it dooms the 50,000 children in San Francisco.

    This year, the drop in school enrollment and 3.7% increase in local property tax revenue, the state school funding formula will raise the “excess” to over $400 million. Meanwhile, SFUSD scrapes the barrel for $112 million of cuts to balance its budget and engages in more desperate attempts to substitute concepts for funding.

    Returning this money to San Francisco K-12 and community college students would take a hundred words or less in the Education Code and a 50%+1 vote in the legislature. No new taxes. No feat of fiscal legerdemain. Just a simple regional cost supplement to fix the state school funding formula.

    Only for San Francisco? No. Actually, the same nasty trick is pulled on the working-class, state-funded school districts in all four of the highest cost counties in California, ranging from Novato in Marin through Pacifica and East Palo Alto in San Mateo County down through East San Jose to Gilroy in Santa Clara County. Disproportionately districts housing people of color, they are punished by the educational community’s blind eye.

    Educate Our State — founded in San Francisco in 2009 by parents puzzled at their high income and property taxes — has made Assemblymembers Ting and Chiu, Senator Wiener, and every legislator in other high-cost counties well aware of this. But they come overwhelmingly from city and county government. They are quick to find reasons not to divert this mushrooming new funding stream from their former colleagues, especially as the education community appears not to understand or care about it.

    If you, the latest generation of puzzled parents, don’t tell them to stop mushrooming windfall revenue for their ex-colleagues on city councils and county boards, no one will. Tragically, creating educational poverty amidst economic plenty seems to suit the educational community just fine. “Why help working-class kids of color in the wealthy counties?”

    Why, indeed.

  3. Jeff Camp 2 weeks ago2 weeks ago

    This is a fascinating issue without clear-cut answers. Students vary in how quickly they absorb and master each building block in the math sequence, partly based on family resources that can confound analysis, like access to tutors. Teachers vary in how effectively they communicate concepts and inspire students to practice to mastery. The public interest is served by ensuring that students with truly rare, extraordinary potential are effectively challenged. (Newton, Einstein and Darwin all changed … Read More

    This is a fascinating issue without clear-cut answers. Students vary in how quickly they absorb and master each building block in the math sequence, partly based on family resources that can confound analysis, like access to tutors. Teachers vary in how effectively they communicate concepts and inspire students to practice to mastery.

    The public interest is served by ensuring that students with truly rare, extraordinary potential are effectively challenged. (Newton, Einstein and Darwin all changed the world in their 20s.) It is also served by not foreclosing on the potential of kids who need a little time to mature.

  4. JudiAU 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Thank you for this important article. When I and my children read the opening of the framework, we also noted deep and systemic bias towards gifted children in general and all Asian students, particularly gifted Asian students. We found the guidelines biased, racist, and rooted in deep anti-intellectualism. My family is not Asian-American but it follows a clear pattern of American anti-Asian bias. My son said it reminded of the Chinese Exclusion Act and asked … Read More

    Thank you for this important article. When I and my children read the opening of the framework, we also noted deep and systemic bias towards gifted children in general and all Asian students, particularly gifted Asian students. We found the guidelines biased, racist, and rooted in deep anti-intellectualism. My family is not Asian-American but it follows a clear pattern of American anti-Asian bias. My son said it reminded of the Chinese Exclusion Act and asked facetiously if we were going to round them up for camps again. But he is modern teen so instead he reported the math framework as hate crime to 5 anti-Asian bias groups.

    Since the change in SF math standards, five branches of Russian Math School have opened ($1600/year). And enrollment in AOPS is sky-high ($1,000 per course). Neither offers financial aid. John Hopkins CTY is seeing record enrollment ($800 per course) and is the the only group that offers aid. None of the other weaker schools such as Mathnasium or Kumon offer financial aid.

  5. Anne Ponugoti 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Does anyone have insight on how the adoption process looks in real life. And time from commitment to eliminating middle school tracks? For example, our local district is posed to include Intro to Data Standards in the high school curriculum. Is this the first step. And if so, what might a timeline from changing high school curriculum to eliminating middle school tracks?

  6. Dayle Ross 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    For one district to determine the math framework for the state is ridiculous! As a parent, I have three children who are very different in math, but all 3 took Algebra 1 in 8th grade. Only 1 went on to complete 2 years of calculus, and he now is a professor in Infomatics. I also taught elementary school, 11 years in a Title 1 school. I will always remember a 2nd … Read More

    For one district to determine the math framework for the state is ridiculous! As a parent, I have three children who are very different in math, but all 3 took Algebra 1 in 8th grade. Only 1 went on to complete 2 years of calculus, and he now is a professor in Infomatics. I also taught elementary school, 11 years in a Title 1 school. I will always remember a 2nd grader (who had already skipped 1st grade) tried to explain to me how he multiplied 6×8 in his head (didn’t understand his method, but was interesting), but hated writing a sentence. Are we going to dummy down all subjects for everyone! All people’s different – let everyone, move at their speed, rather than holding all back just for some.

  7. Chris Stampolis 3 weeks ago3 weeks ago

    Outstanding first step of a column, Seeyew Mo. Some educators tell the truth and some educators lie. I served for 12 years as a local education elected board member and I personally experienced local lying by educators who chose to mislead parents, other educators and the public. These public school educators often became very angry when their lies are exposed. Keep researching, keep writing. The community needs to question and … Read More

    Outstanding first step of a column, Seeyew Mo. Some educators tell the truth and some educators lie. I served for 12 years as a local education elected board member and I personally experienced local lying by educators who chose to mislead parents, other educators and the public. These public school educators often became very angry when their lies are exposed. Keep researching, keep writing. The community needs to question and there are many ways to implement the changes you seek. From the grassroots levels up, it is possible to erode public trust in the SFUSD approach. We all need systematic, calm communication that pushes parents to ask appropriate questions and to educate the public.

    There is zero evidence that delaying all public school students’ access to advanced mathematics lifts a community’s math knowledge. Especially with UC and CSU now legally-prohibited from considering a student’s SAT or ACT scores at the time of application, a District that prohibits study of Algebra 2 until 11th grade reduces its students’ competitiveness for admission to California’s top public universities. Remember that UC and CSU are legally-prohibited from reviewing a student’s 12th grade report cards in admission decisions.

    Private school students in SFUSD compete as individuals against public school students for university admission spots. Also, as individuals, public school students from districts without SFUSD’s restrictions compete for University admissions against SFUSD’s kids. SFUSD’s efforts tilt the University admission process away from equity and towards private school applicants.

    The long-term solution requires early outreach to all parents, starting in elementary school, to explain what their students will need to learn to have a chance at earning admission to competitive universities. Then a community must choose to set up community-based after-school support to encourage kids to aim high and to surpass past levels of achievement. One does not achieve equity by holding back and restricting student achievement, but instead by lifting up students to reach their potential.